Even before anybody dreamed of the Tea Parties, a number of conservative grassroots organizations were mobilizing. From our June issue.
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“A LOT OF PEOPLE AT THESE Tea Parties are not your usual suspects,” said Kevin Kane, president of Louisiana’s Pelican Institute, founded in March of 2008. “We were at the parties building up our e-mail lists—lists of people who need more information to give voice to what they are feeling.”
Kane returned to New Orleans—where he had lived for 12 years—after five years in New York, because he had experienced a “long-term frustration with the stagnant economy and lack of opportunities” in a state and city he had grown to love. “Post- Katrina and with Bobby Jindal being elected,” he said, “I felt there really was an opportunity to do some good”—and then after a lengthy conversation with syndicated libertarian conservative columnist Deroy Murdock, also a New Orleans lover and a fellow proponent of a Crescent City think tank, Kane and his wife decided to try to make a go of it. As in so many of the other grass-roots conservative efforts, Pelican was not created by some top-down edict but originally through individual initiative.
Such was also the case with one of the oldest of the state conservative think tanks, the Alabama Policy Institute, which will celebrate its 20th birthday on September 1. API founder Gary Palmer still runs the organization, and also was a founding board member and one-time president of the national State Policy Network that now serves as an information-sharing link for all of the groups. Again, the idea is solid communication rather than command-and-control coordination—a network of like-minded individuals and groups, far from the tightly controlled “Conspiracy” imagined by Hillary Clinton and the lefty blogosphere.
“We take the intellectual or academic information and make it retail,” Palmer said. “We give people like the Tea Party activists the ability to articulate what they know instinctively.”
Palmer said the Tea Party movement also has provided “a renewed opportunity to link the economic conservatives and social conservatives together…a reunion of the coalition” that had been begun to show a strain until the Obama administration reminded both groups that Leviathan threatens all of them.
Still, he said that the bigger problem the think tanks can address is not just the lack of information among activists and protesters, but among elected officials too.
“The real crisis is a crisis of leadership,” he said. “It’s a lack of understanding [by officeholders] of what things constitute the basis of government by a free people.”
Toward that end, he said he is particularly encouraged that an Alabama group led mostly by conservative women launched in May the Alabama Legislative Leadership Initiative, with a goal, like that of the American Majority, of identifying and electing leaders well grounded in conservative philosophy. The group intends to find 15,000 people each to commit $2 per week to a political action committee so that, every four years, some $6 million will be available for conservative candidates in a state whose Legislature heretofore has remained controlled by old-line liberal machine politics.
ALABAMA AND LOUISIANA are just two examples of the sorts of things going on in all fifty states.
“It’s natural to take the Tea Party concerns about the national government and apply those concerns to taxing and spending policies at the state levels, too,” Kane said. “And we can have an immediate impact at the state and local levels.”
Meanwhile, with more than 800 local organizers having driven the original Tea Party movement, another group, called Tea Party Patriots, was founded to try to serve as an “umbrella” organization that one of its founders, Mark Meckler, says will “facilitate communication between local Tea Party organizers and activists, and…act as a clearinghouse for information, resources, and services.”
Whether through a loose umbrella organization or through grassroots efforts like American Majority, activists on the ground intend to keep the Tea Party energy from dissipating.
“We need at least ten percent of [the hundreds of thousands] of Tea Party participants nationwide,” said Ned Ryun, “to at least think about running for office or at least become serious activists at the local level. We have to make that the starting point of something good, not just a one-day event.”
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